For the first time ever, the average price for a gallon of gas in Washington state exceeds five dollars a gallon, an increase of $1.42, or 40%, in just one year.
The price is unlikely to hit $10 per gallon as some fear, but Washington’s high gas prices aren’t going away. Next year, the governor’s climate policies will increase prices even more.
Politicians know high gas prices are a political liability, so the blame game is in full swing. Governor Inslee recently claimed that suspending the state’s extremely high gas tax wouldn’t reduce prices because “oil companies just increase their price up to the same pain point.” This is incorrect. If oil companies could just ignore competition, prices would already be $10 a gallon.
Actually, the governor is proud that he is increasing gas prices. Last year, he signed legislation — which he called “historic” — to tax the CO2 emissions from each gallon of gas. Legislative analysts project the law will add about 20 cents per gallon starting next year, increasing to over 30 cents per gallon in 2030.
Legislators also imposed a costly “low-carbon fuel standard” that will do nothing to cut CO2 emissions but does funnel millions to foreign biofuel companies. That is expected to add about a penny a gallon next year, increasing to about 20 cents per gallon in 2030.
The result is another 50 cents per gallon in 2030, with none of that money going to help state roads.
While suspending the gas tax would help in the near-term, it would reduce funding for Washington’s roads. Gas taxes are protected by Washington’s constitution and are dedicated to roads. Unless the funding were replaced from the general fund, drivers would have to make up that lost revenue in the future to make sure Washington’s roads are safe and maintained. It would be better to reduce the state sales tax on all goods.
Of course, there are other factors. Global markets certainly have an impact. In February, the price of a barrel of oil exceeded $100 for the first time since 2014.
So too does an unfavorable regulatory environment for oil and gas. High prices would normally increase production. With the Biden and Inslee administrations making it clear they want to eliminate oil and gas, companies that might invest to increase supply and reduce prices are nervous about taking the risk. The U.S. is left with pleading with other countries to increase production rather than using American oil and gas to make up the gap.
The glib response offered by some politicians is to let over-burdened drivers buy electric vehicles. President Biden tweeted earlier this year, “transforming our economy to run on electric vehicles, powered by clean energy, will mean that no one will have to worry about gas prices.” This attitude is particularly tone-deaf.
For those who own trucks, this isn’t an option. Of the more than 33,000 new trucks purchased in Washington last year, only one was electric. One.
And, while some EV advocates point to the Nissan Leaf as an affordable option, it is largely a commuter car rather than a primary vehicle. The state of Washington’s own analysis found the Tesla Model 3, with an MSRP of about $47,000 or more, is the best option. The Department of Enterprise Services noted that “there are significant concerns” with the range of the Leaf. Even at $5/gallon, the Inslee Administration’s analysis shows the additional up-front cost more than offsets the savings from gasoline purchases over the lifespan of an EV compared to gas-powered hybrids.
Making our energy system reliant on a few sources of energy increases the likelihood of price spikes like the one we are seeing now. Pitting people’s well-being against the environment is a bad bet, and if prices go too high they are likely to reject environmental regulations that crush the family budget.
Innovation has significantly improved our energy efficiency and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, politicians are playing games with our energy policy and the current spike in prices is an example of the costs we will pay for their ideological blindness and detachment from reality.
Todd Myers is the Environmental Director for the Washington Policy Center, a nonprofit research organization with offices in Tri-Cities, Spokane, Seattle and Olympia.